For Those Studying Medicine..(3)

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine

“To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always”

-ascribed to Hippocrates (Greek physician, 460-370 BC)


As a medical student this message would have been drummed in countless times; and, as a young doctor, one will realise that permanent eradication of illness is not always possible and that many diseases cannot be cured.   One needs to not just administer pain-killers but also to devote time to understand the patient’s agenda despite a busy work schedule, offer empathy and, most important, seeing the patient as a human being, not just an object to operate on or to inject drugs in.

When treatment has failed to cure and patients are about to die, many doctors and nurses feel they have failed and give up their hands in despair.  Don’t forget that that the dying patient still requires another form of treatment  –  palliative care.

5 responses

  1. Very true.

    Not everything in medicine is curative. And sometimes the most appropriate thing to do is to do nothing at all other than keeping them comfortable. At the start of internship, it was disheartening and helpless to see treatment being withdrawn after all available options were exhausted. With more experience and terms in ICU, I come to realize that prolonging life is not everything because it is the quality of life that matters, especially in the context of the frail elderly persons or those with multiple disabling medical comorbidities. Even though death is successfully delayed after trials of invasive therapies and powerful medicines, how much of a quality of life is there if the next few months is spent recovering in hospital with most likely complications after complications? [Doctor2008 says: …not to mention the enormous costs involved! Thanks for your input ]

    The other point made is also very true. It’s very easy to lapse into the habit of labeling patients as cases and objects without seeing the person beyond the disease. I’m guilty of this on too many occasions, referring patients as the lymphoma lady or the guy in bed8 with ischaemic bowel, often without knowing or remembering their names. And when a rare, weird and wonderful disease turns up, most often the patient will be subjected to the endless scrutiny of medical trainees (with informed consent of course), all too eager to examine the classic textbook examples of signs and symptoms. In these instances, it’s only occasionally that someone would actually ponder about the person living with the disease and the impact it has on his life. The thing I found most amazing about some of these patients are their generosity in opening up their lives and privacy to medical trainees for the sake of education despite having their large spleen prodded on bazillion times or their medical history repeated countless times like a broken record. “That is how you learn,” they would say and are actually proud that they have been ‘training’ medical students their whole life.

  2. If we fail to follow the Hippocratic oath,
    we become hypocrites.

  3. I started volunteering at a hospice this summer. I had little understanding of what hospice was about or what pallative care was but it has strengthen my ambition to going to medical school. Doctors need to be the more humane and compassionate of all of us since their line of work provides both the worst and best of the human condition. This was such a great read between the MCAT studying and still trying to figure out what to do with my life 🙂 Thanks!

  4. I definitely agree with keeping people comfortable in their last days and this occurred with my grandfather before he died of Leukemia. Before the last resort, medical practitioners did make my grandfather uncomfortable. He got to the point where he cussed at someone in the ambulance. That was the first in a very long time that he swore to somebody. The worst thing one can do in that situation is to prolong their life by increasing their suffering. My grandfather, though, is resting with his father in heaven.

  5. In response to your post, “seeing the patient as a human being, not just an object to operate on or to inject drugs in” – all to often in healthcare, patients are labeled as a body or organ part or DIS-ease condition, ie, ‘the gall badder in room 520″ for a patient with removal of the gall badder or “the copd’er”. First of all, labeling in this way is disrepectful to the patient and shows the narrow perspective healthcare professionals have. We are not just a dis-ease or body part…we are composed of body-mind-spirit-emotional dimensions, and those in healthcare need to return and embrace the holistic concept of healing. Healing includes more than healing the body. Please read my blog titled ‘Creativity in Healthcare,’ at

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